March 16, 2014
Three years ago this week, four words hastily scrawled in sloppy red graffiti on the wall of a school in Daraa sparked what became the Syrian war.
Just one month after Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak was forced to step down after more than 30 years in power, a handful of schoolchildren in Daraa foresaw a similar fate for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. “Ijak al-dour, ya doktour,” they wrote, a line that rhymes in Arabic: “Your turn has come, Doctor.”
Soon after, when the Syrian state security branch arrested more than a dozen children, thousands of Daraa’s citizens took to the street, protesting the childrens’ arrest and calling for a slew of reforms that, for some, included the immediate departure of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.
As the conflict enters its fourth year this week, Syria Direct’s Mohammed al-Haj Ali spoke with Jawad Yussef al-Muslima, a 33 year-old former secondary school teacher in Daraa al-Balad, the same neighborhood in Daraa’s provincial capital that the boys scrawled their demand for Assad to fall. Today, it is a divided district, with the regime controlling about half and the Free Syrian Army the other half.
Al-Muslima lives in the FSA-controlled section of Daraa al-Balad and is a member of the Local Coordination Committee. Here, he recounts his memories of the early days of protests, and explains why the most important achievement of the revolution thus far has been “breaking the barrier of fear.”
Q: Can you talk about the protests in Daraa three years ago? Why were people protesting, in your opinion?
The revolution started in the city with peaceful protests, asking for some changes and the cancellation of some laws that government had previously passed. One of the most important reasons the revolution began was the arrest of a number of children, after they on the walls of a school in the neighborhood of Daraa al-Balad. [Their writing] was the product of 40 years of oppression, and the accumulation of pressure and suffering on the Syrian people over decades.
Q: What were your demands and what were your calls?
[Our demands were for] the release of prisoners of conscience, the cancellation of the emergency law, the end of martial law and the dismissal of the governor of Daraa as well as Aatef Najeeb, the head of the state security branch in Daraa, who had arrested the children.
So at the beginning, the calls were for the dismissal of the governor and the end of emergency law, and demands for freedom. They rose up after the regime perpetrated crimes, preferring to die rather than be humiliated: “Whomever kills his people is a traitor;” that was the major slogan we responded to [the crimes] with in the beginning. And of course, “Isqat al-nitham” [the fall of the regime].
Q: After three years, how do the people of Daraa live?
Now, they live in a state of war. Today, most of the people in Daraa have fled or been displaced. Some of them are in Jordan, some of them are in villages that seem secure. In general, people only see death, whether from rockets, mortar shelling or planes’ barrel. But the damage increases every day, and suffering is high.
Q: What did the people of Daraa want from these protests?
They wanted to liberate Syria from this unjust, criminal regime.
Q: What has the revolution brought so far, in your opinion?
The most important thing was breaking the barrier of fear, and the people’s insistence upon achieving freedom and lifting the injustice under which people had lived for 40 years with this criminal regime. Also, of course, is the spread of the people’s awareness, political and mentally.
Q: What is the path of the revolution after three years?
The revolutionary Syrian people will of course win, even if this continues for ten years or more. This is what we see the people and the Free Syrian Army insisting upon. Right now in Syria, it is impossible to coexist with this regime, which has perpetrated a crime in every household and family. Coexisting with this regime, which has perpetrated the ugliest massacres beyond description, and the scale of destruction, is impossible. Victory is the solution that remains at this time.
Q: Anything else to add?
We’re done begging. We have lost hope in talking, in imploring this world that just looks on. Everything is known, and what is happening in Syria is not hidden from anyone. We want to say that we will win, with or without you. All we have is God.
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